How Dogs Think

The book, How Dogs Think by Stanley Coren, PhD provides fascinating information on dogs’ abilities. I discovered useful actions I can take to communicate with my dog Stella, whose eyesight and hearing are failing. Read about these in my blog.

Even if your dog’s eyesight and hearing are perfect, there’s a great discussion in this blog on how dogs see colors. It explained a lot to me!

Lots of scientific explanations

How dogs thinkIn Dr. Coren’s book, you will read about the scientific research behind the useful information.  If you read it carefully, you’ll get a lesson in dog physiology.

 Odin shows how one dog thinks

Truthfully, I like the scientific evidence, but I love the wonderful dog stories Dr. Coren shares. Here’s one from the Dr. Coren’s own dog, Odin.

“One cold rainy day, I was feeling too tired and uncomfortable to take my dogs on their usual morning walk. [So] they had to content themselves with being out in the yard for a short while.

“For my flat-coated retriever, Odin this was simply not an acceptable situation…

“Late in the afternoon, I was disturbed from my reading by a clatter at my feet.

“I looked down and noticed that Odin had somehow found his leash and deposited it on the floor. I picked it up, put in on the sofa next to me, and gave him a pat and a reassuring, “Later, Odin.”

“A few minutes passed and there was another clatter at my feet.

“… Odin had now deposited one of my shoes beside me. When I didn’t respond, he quickly retrieved the other shoe and put it down next to me.

“Obviously, to his mind, I was being quite dense or stubborn since I still delayed going out into the cold and wet weather.

“It was at that moment that Odin ran to the door and gave a familiar bark. It was a distinctive sound that he only used when my wife, Joan, was approaching the door….

“When Odin gave his “Joan is here” bark, I got up to unlock the door rather than hear her fumbling for her keys in the rain…

“The moment I got within a foot or two of the door, Odin dashed back to the sofa and grabbed his leash.

“Before I had even determined that Joan’s car had not arrived in its usual place, he was nudging my hand with the leash he carried in his mouth.

“[Needless to say, Odin] got his walk.”

Well? Do dogs think?

If Odin’s any example, they can be pretty crafty thinkers!

What they see

There’s a belief that dogs only see in shades of gray. However, that’s not true.

As shared from How Dogs Think, “Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as

  • dark blue,
  • light blue,
  • gray,
  • light yellow,
  • darker yellow, (sort of brown), and
  • very dark gray.”

And vision isn’t the primary way they take in the world. They don’t see details like our eyes do. Dogs use vision to confirm what they already know. That’s because dogs’ eyes are designed mostly for the chase, for movement.

What colors do dogs see?

  • Green, yellow and orange are yellowish colors.
  • Violet and blue are seen as blue.
  • Blue-green is gray.
  • Red is hard to see, and it probably looks dark gray or black.

Seeing object in the grass

Dr. Coren points out the “safety orange” used in safety cones and on jackets that stands out so well for us humans is seen as a yellow – the same color as grass.

So if you’re throwing a bright orange ball or placing orange bumpers in the grass, your dog may run right by it!

Shades of blue and white sections work better in the grass.

And contrast helps! Significantly brighter or darker will help them see objects, too

Help your sight-impaired dog

I’m not sure I can suggest wearing certain colors to help your dog see you. That’d be a bit much. But moving may help catch their attention.

What they hear

A dog’s hearing is hundreds of times better than ours for some sounds. They have greater sensitivity to high-pitched sounds. Evolution-wise, they needed to hear small animals like mice, voles and rats so they could catch them.

Is your dog losing their hearing?

Hearing Test

If you’re worried about your dog’s hearing, Dr. Koren suggests the following:

“Stand behind [your dog] out of sign. Either squeeze a squeaky to, whistle, clap your hands, or bang a metal spoon against a pot.

“A normal dog will prick [their] ears or turn [their] hear or body toward the source of the sound.

“Be very careful not to stand directly over the dog, since they are sensitive to air currents and may feel your movements or the vibration in the floor immediately behind them.”

What they can still hear

Losing the ability of very sharp loud sounds is the last to go for dogs. So to get your dog’s attention, try a sharp clap of the hands or quick, loud whistle. I find that loud whistling is more effective that clapping my hands.

Waking a hard-of-hearing dog

  • Hold your hand near their nose so they smell you.
  • Stomp your way towards them so they feel the vibration.

Helping them get around

  • Use a leash! Keep them safe from traffic or getting lost.
  • Get them a canine companion.

What they smell

Do you have a dog that sniffs everything? I do!

That’s because the sense of smell is their primary sense. It dominates their brain. They can detect very faint smells. But you probably know that if you read my book review on Molly, the dog who finds cats in my blog, Four Wonderful Dog Books.

The cold wet nose helps them smell

The mucus on the nose captures smell molecules and keeps the nose cool. Science shows that a hot, panting dog isn’t able to smell easily. They need to cool down.

I don’t love being woken up by a cold, wet nose, but now I know why it’s “built that way!”

And now that I know dogs are built to sniff, I’m more tolerant in giving them time to do their sniff and pee routine.

Find out more

There’s so much more good information in How Dogs Think and other writings by Stanley Coren.

Read my blog!

Do your pets have special abilities?


Would love to hear if you have any stories about how your dog’ thinks! Please share below.

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